Hannibal sinking: the tepid origins of a psychopath

Film studios today feel the need, for no apparent reason whatsoever, to provide rightfully mysterious characters with backstories. They feebly attempt to develop killers, monsters and psychopaths into misunderstood protagonists – characters who lend their terror, menace and intrigue to mystery. This strategy has failed miserably with Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and more recently with Leatherface in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.”

And now, with “Hannibal Rising,” the iconic, suavely ominous Hannibal Lecter is reduced to a sniveling, angst-ridden teen, more at home on MySpace than in an asylum for the criminally insane. And though the franchise has suffered before (“Hannibal” was an awful film, while “Red Dragon” was merely watchable), “Hannibal Rising” is far and away a different kind of terrible.

The film, as the title implies, follows the “rise” of Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) from 8-year-old boy to cannibalistic teenager. As a child, young Hannibal witnesses a squad of starving Nazis devour his little sister. Naturally, this event results in a severely troubled teenager. Young Hannibal is plagued every night by nightmares of his sister’s death, so he sets out into the world with vengeance on his mind. He’s taken in by his estranged Japanese aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li), who disapproves of his murderous ways. Despite this, the two of them establish a “I’m attracted to you even though you’re my aunt and roughly twenty years my senior” sort-of deal, and Lady Murasaki educates Lecter on the ways of the samurai.

Yes, you read that right: the ways of the samurai. For a moment, I thought I had wandered into the wrong theater and ended up watching “Batman Begins.” But no, it’s young Hannibal Lecter, sparring with a wooden katana. The sheer absurdity of it put me off for the remainder of the film, which essentially plays out as your standard revenge drama – no twists or turns in the plot to spice things up, no substantial story progression to speak of; just a lukewarm origin story, about as interesting as a dish towel.

It’s a generic, dry and viciously boring attempt at a horror film. It feels like one of those terrible “Saw” movies, opting out of the true suspense of “The Silence of the Lambs” and instead relying on torture scenes and grisly gore to make the audience squirm. And that’s really all the audience does: they squirm. They squirm because it’s a needlessly gross movie. But mostly, they squirm because they’re bored and the theater seats are really uncomfortable.

Ulliel is horribly miscast as young Lecter. He’s a fresh talent and he tries his best, he really does, but I wasn’t buying it for a second. His accent isn’t quite right, his mannerisms are off and he resembles Crispin Glover more than he does Anthony Hopkins.

To make matters worse, all of the film’s actors have severe problems with maintaining their accents, or with utilizing the correct ones in the first place. There’s Nazis with German, Russian, French and British accents; a French police inspector who can’t properly pronounce “guillotine,” a word of French origin. An announcement to American actors: when portraying a German, a Brit, a Frenchman or a Russian, it’s not OK to simply pick an arbitrary European accent and go with it. It didn’t work in “Enemy at the Gates,” it doesn’t work here.

Despite high production values and a colorful cast, “Hannibal Rising” fails in every conceivable aspect. The performances are lax and the scares are scant at best. The menacing charm of Hopkins’ Lecter is all too absent, replaced with the whiney anti-heroism of Ulliel’s performance. As far as decent horror flicks go, it’s a movie best avoided.


  1. You make me want to see silence of the lambs and then shy away from anything having to do with Hannibal Lector, thanks for the heads up.

  2. I've never seen any of the Hannibal movies. But I want to see Silence of the Lambs...

    So maybe I'll just wait until someone forces me...


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